Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sankarea, Nazo no Kanojo X, and Fanservice

The Spring anime season had a number of unexpectedly good shows in it, but none surprised me with their quality more than Sankarea and Nazo no Kanojo X (Mysterious Girlfriend X). These were both shows that I decided to give a shot, but wasn't really expecting much from due to their seemingly raunchy nature. As the season progressed, however, I came to enjoy them more and more, and it got me thinking. See, I've got nothing against the typical ecchi fanservice. It's just rarely used well and can never really be "good." These two shows both deal with fanservice, and so I decided I'd group them together despite the fact they deal with it in very different ways.
Note: This post is safe for work (why are you reading blogs at work?), but does contain very minor spoilers for MGX and more major ones for Sankarea so approach with caution.

     Let's start with Sankarea. This series deals with the fanservice in what is honestly a rather jarring way; leaving it out for the majority of the time, then shoving it in on awkward occasion. This was particularly surprising because I (among many others, I'm sure) thought that this was going to be one of the most fetish-rampant series of the season, focusing on a pubescent male and his harem-lead worthy zombie dream girl. However, by focusing on telling its story in a quality way (see: this image heavy post), Sankarea manages to pull itself above the reputation usually associated with fanservice shows and manages to engross the audience despite its rather straightforward and small-scale plot. The characters were interesting and likeable, the drama intense enough, the stories important enough (with the exception of that episode about Mero), and the visuals superb. But this post is about the fanservice, right?

     See, the fanservice is what makes Sankarea so interesting (or at least, one of the things). The way fanservice is used in this show is very...odd, and while some have cited it as poor or even outright bad, I appreciate the way it makes you think. Throughout the show, Rea and Ranko (or Wanko, if you prefer) are occasionally shown in rather sexual ways. Rea is often shown in a very sexual way, with nudity, costumes, and the occasional bloodfrenzy quasi-rape (Rea being the aggressor) all showing up along the way. And yet, the plot of Sankarea is centered around Rea freeing herself from the oppressive and very very possibly incestuous clutches of her possessive father. Basically, a story about a pitiable girl who is viewed as a sexual object trying to free herself from that situation. Yet as I have explained and many other bloggers have expressed displeasure at, Rea is still sexualized even after escaping her father. Arguably, she is in an even worse position, since she is dead, will rot and "really" die within a comparatively tiny amount of time, and is now in an unfamiliar environment and her safety is at the mercy of a family that doesn't know her secret. Additionally, she is now videotaped (though not nearly as creepily as her father took pictures of her), and is still around a male who is very attracted to her, even unhealthily so.

You think?
     A cursory glance from a story perspective says this is a very bad thing. Why should we be supportive of Rea getting away from her father if she just going from the frying pan to the fire, or at least the frying pan on the other side of the stove? And that is indeed a good question. But let's look go a little farther with these questions, first. Is Rea better off? Is the way she is sexualized less objectionable, if not for any other reason than for no longer having anything to do with an incestuous pedophile? Is Rea more "free" in her new environment? Though she's mostly kept inside during the daytime, she can go out shopping now, and we can see from Chihiro's decision to let her go to school that her *actual* wishes are being attended to more. Or are things no better, with an equally eccentric but younger man still making major decisions for her life? These are all good questions to ask, but not in the sense you're probably thinking of. Think about it. Who are you asking these questions to? Probably the show, but you're not getting answers from there, so you have to think for yourself here and reach your own conclusions. I consider this a good thing. These are questions that actively engage the audience and make the difference between Sankarea being a well-made story about a girl finding a better life as a zombie (an ironic situation indeed) and a dark, deceptively told chronicle of a girl whose life is in a continuous spiral down, and this only happens because of the fanservice.

It makes you think, doesn't it?
     Now, I'm not saying that forcing you to ask and subsequently answer these questions makes Sankarea better or even good in the first place. Furthermore, I can't quite bring myself to believe that the creators intended this. Perhaps Sankarea is just a stylistically confused show, pulling you one way trying to get you on the main characters' side and pulling you the other with cleavage shots and over-sexualization in a show-hampering juxtaposition (the blase inclusion of Ranko's bosom seems to support this). But having you ask these questions certainly makes Sankarea much more interesting. Depending on the answer, it can totally change the nature of the story, and I found that a pleasant surprise.

     On what is debatably the opposite side of the spectrum we have Mysterious Girlfriend X (abbreviated to MGX). MGX has no conflict or confusion about its fanservice. Instead, it actually embraces it, making it a major plot device. What I find interesting is that MGX manages to make its fanservice acceptable and unobjectionable despite failing to make it particularly classy or elegant.

No, see, it's his finger in her mouth. No really, I swear it's not what you think. No, I'm telling you...
     One thing I should point out is that the fanservice is not made acceptable because of its importance to the plot. If that were all it took, than Seikon no Qwaser (*shudders*) would be considered modern masterpiece of acceptable fanservice. This begs the question, then: "What does make the fanservice in MGX acceptable?" If I had to describe the experience of watching MGX with one word, I have no doubt in my mind that the word I'd pick would be uncomfortable. My good friend Redball summed it up quite well in a tweet about episode 10, saying, "Oh dear. MGX 10 is chocked full of embarrassment. I keep having to stop and look away." That really couldn't be a more perfect description of what it's like watching this series. If you thought that the idea of someone licking another person's drool off their finger was awkward (and it is), then you've got another thing coming when this show really steps things up.

     So why is it that I still watched this show every week like a thrall even though it made me want to dig a hole in my backyard and hide in it? The answer is romance. See, MGX, for all its drool, blushing, and fetish representing, is the story of two high schoolers in love. Sure, it's a very...unique, very very awkward, and at times frustrated love, but that doesn't change its core nature. How does fanservice fit into all of this? As a lesser part of a greater whole. MGX embraces its various fanservice elements, and it makes them less important than the story. And that solves the greatest problem associated with fanservice; stopping the story for it. For all its drool, MGX is all about being in a relationship. Akira (or Tsubaki, if you prefer) has worries about his relationship, but they aren't "Hey I hope I see her naked." or "Gee, I wish she'd wear a smaller swimsuit." They're more real worries about whether or not he's good enough for their relationship, if things are "normal" and if not being normal is okay, if their relationship will be in danger if it doesn't go to the "next level" (which in MGX's case is tiny things like holding hands), and so forth.

     And that's why I found the fanservice in MGX so very acceptable (for lack of a better word). I was worried it was going to get out of hand, but the series manages to incorporate it admirably. That's what is so surprising about this series; fanservice is a big part of it, but it never becomes too big a part.

     So yeah, that's what I thought of the fanservice elements in Sankarea and Nazo no Kanojo X. I seriously wasn't expecting to find even one show for which I felt ambivalent/positive about fanservice, let alone two (these two shows join Needless in that three series list). You can also go ahead and consider this my recommendation to watch Sankarea and Nazo no Kanojo X. I may end up making proper impression posts for them, but if not, then yeah, I recommend them. They may not be the best the season offered, but they're still worth your time.


  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, that's what I meant. Thanks for catching that. :)

  2. ... Wow. I have GOT to catch up on Sankarea after reading this; I expected it to be borderline zombieporn too, so you're definitely not alone as far as that goes.

    MGX, on the other hand, seems... like... Nismonogatari's toothbrush episode levels of awkward. Except it's the entire series instead of just one episode.

    1. I really suggest you do. It's a wonderfully well *told* story, above all else.

      I personally have never seen any of the Monogatari series (well, I did get a couple eps into Katanagatari, but...), but from what I've heard that doesn't sound too far off.

      Thanks for stopping by and reading!

    2. Katanagatari isn't a monogatari series. It is very good however. Bakemonogatari, and more recently Nisemonogatari, are part of that series however (adapted from novels iirc). Those are very... stylistic... shows which include lots of fanservice, most of which is only made fun by the great dialogue and banter (a word I hate, but it is the best choice here) between characters.

      As for the infamous Nise ep8 toothbrush scene... it has to be seen. Words do not, and cannot, describe it.

      I personally can't stand cringe-worthy anime, so I dropped MGX :/ though it certainly looked unique.

      Sankarea I agree is a good watch, the fanservice is limited, but certainly not a must watch. My biggest problems with the series are: the more forced fanservice, Ranko, the maids. Fortunately they do not appear often enough to be hugely detrimental (Ranko is over-used, but has enough development to make up for it). ymmv.

    3. Well, I know it's not from the same universe, but it's based of a Nisao Isin Light Novel and has "gatari" in the title, so I just go ahead and include it in the franchise.

      Like I said, neither of these shows may not be the best of the season, but they're pretty high up there, all things considered. Reading Catchercatch's great post (URL: ) on Sankarea certainly helped me appreciate the way they told the story more.

      Thanks for dropping by, Raggers!